Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sweet Caroline

I don’t have an opinion on Caroline Kennedy as a person, a thinker, a political figure or a New Yorker. I simply don’t know her – and in that regard, I’m like pretty much everybody else, thanks to the deliberate way she has shielded her life from the world’s view. I certainly couldn’t care less that she isn’t a smooth, confident public speaker, or that she punctuates every phrase with “you know.”

I am, however, developing sympathy for her as a pawn. To be sure, she walked into the current shitstorm over her “candidacy” (or whatever it is) to fill Hillary’s soon-to-be-vacated New York Senate seat with her eyes open. She’s a responsible adult. But she’s also schlepping around more myth and history and family legacy than just about anybody else alive, and it seems as though that’s being wielded against her by the dying patriarch of American political royalty in ways that are manipulative and cruel. One thinks of the Marion Davies character in Citizen Kane.

The whole foofarah has been, not surprisingly, catnip for commentariat gossip during the interregnum (even more than Blagogate, though perhaps a tad less than Warrengate). God forbid the lions of the Village should talk about policy, or the global economic crisis. And by all means, we must keep Favreaugate off the front pages. I mean, the boy mustn’t be distracted – he has to write the most importantest speech ever. (N.B., It’s been nearly four weeks now, and still no word from our Vote-Present-Elect.)

But putting the pundits’ blatherings aside, what are we to make of this odd, asymmetrical drama surrounding Caroline? To me, the key question is the issue of her motivation. Here is someone who has assiduously avoided public visibility for her entire life. It was worth a lot to her to avoid it -- taking a $1 salary in order not to provide financial disclosure. Despite being born into American royalty and then into a fairy-tale narrative of beauty and hope and loss, she deliberately and consistently refused to play the part assigned to her. And now, all of a sudden, she's throwing her hat into the ring?

Isn’t it obvious that there’s something wrong with this picture? That something else is going on? And is it either a surprise or at all inappropriate for reporters to probe that? Although some have criticized the Times’ reporters for pressing her to describe her “moment of decision," aren’t they, in fact, acting out of a reasonable skepticism that such a moment actually occurred? Doesn’t it, in fact, seem probable that she is being pushed into this by Uncle Teddy? As new information comes to light, it looks more and more as though Caroline’s own motives, passions, interests and ideas are the farthest things from some people’s consideration.

Members of my generation felt heartbroken and protective of her from the moment of that iconic scene at her father’s funeral. And then she lost her uncle. Now, she’s about to lose her other uncle. None of these powerful men has ever given much evidence of interest or concern about women’s or girls’ feelings, or identity.

If she is the prime mover here, and is serious about it, then she's both arrogant and doing a lousy job of promoting herself. But to my eye, the whole spectacle is most dispiriting in the way Caroline Kennedy is being used, rather than in how she is using.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Hillary's Choice

Put aside the panting addicts of palace intrigue. Put aside the CDS-infected zombies, their solar system revolving around the object or objects of their obsession. Put aside the Village’s cluck-clucking over the proper balance of power in an Administration. Put aside our own feelings of hurt at the misogyny, lies and violations of democracy leading up to the nomination, as well as our sense of wasted possibility, of what might have been. Even put aside the question of Obama’s selection of Hillary as Secretary of State – whether you think it was bold or magnanimous or delusional or wonderful or awful. Indeed, put him aside entirely.

For the moment just think about what Hillary herself has done here, and what it tells us about her journey, about who she has become and is still becoming.

What was Hillary’s choice?

It was the choice of one of America’s – and the world’s – most experienced and knowledgeable thinkers and leaders to take direction from someone with vastly less knowledge, experience, proven judgment or credentials.

It was the choice of a woman to submit to a less qualified man. And of an older person to submit to a less qualified younger person.

It was a decision to take on an enormous burden, a huge task – with slim hope of visible, near-term success. Whatever else you can say about this position, it will be a shitload of work – and far more visible and accountable than remaining New York’s Senator. Indeed, Hillary’s seriousness about the work itself is obvious in her reported attempt to define the SoS role as extending significantly into global economic policy. This is, obviously, intellectually correct – how could world affairs possibly be tackled without putting global economic policy at their heart? But put that aside, and just consider what she’s signing up for. Despite the ‘bots’ snide dismissals of her experience as First Lady, she sure as hell ain’t planning tea parties. (It is, btw, risible to hear some tut-tut about how global economic policy is beyond the traditional purview of the State Department, claiming that it properly belongs to Treasury. Funny, but I can’t seem to recall the name of Truman’s Secretary of the Treasury. I can, however, remember his Secretary of State – you know, the one for whom the Marshall Plan was named.)

It was a choice to move past the hatred, misogyny and arrogance of the campaign and of the Obama “movement.” When Hillary decided to take this job, she knew full well with whom she would be dealing, probably on a daily basis. She knew what to expect from a culture that casually regards her as a “monster,” that hates her enough to project its own murderous rage onto her. Instead of staying in the Senate, where she would have retained far more freedom of action, and where the institutional walls dividing the branches of government would have stood between her and these toxic avengers, she decided to enter the den of vipers, the House of Favreau. Even more – she decided to devote her enormous talents to helping them succeed.

It was a choice to cede the cause dearest to her heart and soul – universal healthcare – to others. It was, in other words, a choice to forego historical redemption for her failure the first time around. If she had remained in the Senate, I don’t think there can be much doubt that Hillary Clinton would have remained the government’s and the country’s most widely respected thinker and arbiter on healthcare policy. And even if other pretenders to that throne had attempted to freeze her out, nothing would have prevented her from continuing to offer views, expertise and legislation on the topic. By accepting the job of SoS, however, she has accepted a division of labor in the Administration that will keep her positions on healthcare behind the scenes, at best.

It was a choice to continue being tough, rather than to take an emotional break. Whatever else we know about the internecine politics of a U.S. administration, we know that they are, indeed, internecine. Sure, the Senate and the general political scrum are rough-and-tumble – but not like this. Every administration in the past several decades has been a battlefield, whereas the Senate is, as everyone knows, a club. And because of Hillary’s national – and, indeed, global – constituency… because she became something quite unique in the course of this past year… she could have relaxed into that, probably could have ridden it for the rest of her public life. Instead, she chose to take on new challenges – political, historical, interpersonal. She looked unflinchingly at what the actual opportunities were for her to make a difference, and she marched straight up to the biggest one realistically available. She chose the path of most resistance.

Obviously, nobody – Hillary included – has the first idea how all this will turn out. But we can already say that her choice here was something remarkable, perhaps unprecedented.

This is one extraordinary person.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Bah! Humbug!

I know, I know… I can be a downer. Just ask people who go to the movies with me. You loved Forrest Gump – and its current, even emptier progeny, The Curious Tale of Benjamin Button? You thought Wall-E made a profound statement about consumer society? Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead and Rachel Getting Married were, by you, strong comebacks for famous directors? Your art-film-in-broad-release gratification reflex was triggered by Persepolis and Lust, Caution?

I’m here to spoil your evening.

And we won’t even start on such winning-or-nominated gems from the past decade as Gladiator, American Beauty, Chicago (beating The Pianist??), Lost in Translation, Million Dollar Baby, The Departed, The Queen, Michael Clayton, A History of Violence, Notes on a Scandal, Cars, Monster House, The Triplets of Belleville, The Straight Story, Shakespeare in Love or The Truman Show.

Similarly, in the realm of politics, I am proving to be a buzzkill for some of the nicest, sweetest, most thoughtful people I know. People for whom Barack Obama genuinely warms cockles. I wind up feeling downright churlish sometimes – in moments when I’m relaxing from righteous indignation – about my glass-half-empty pov on the guy. And I do honestly hope that he – or events – deliver The Greatest Presidency Ever. I do, I do, I do.

Anyway, at least we can agree on Eyes Wide Shut.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Favreau Watch

Two weeks. Still no word. Our President-Elect has held press conferences almost daily. This topic didn’t warrant a mention. Jon Date-Rape-Jester Favreau is still, as far as we know, writing the speeches for those daily press conferences. Hillary Clinton, whose breast he fantasy-groped (in public, to share with his fellow party-going Obamaphiles how funny it would be to humiliate her sexually - and then even more publicly by posting that witty jape on the World Wide Web, for the Web-wide world to see and enjoy), is still, as far as we know, slated to represent the United States of America to the other leaders and nations of the world. Americans still, as far as we know, hope that their prospective Secretary of State and the government she represents will be seen by those leaders and nations as an embodiment of her own and our collective dignity, integrity, intelligence, experience, seriousness, respect, wisdom and aspirations.

However, our President-Elect has found time to announce that Rick Warren, who opposes a woman’s right to choose and promoted California’s Prop 8 – denying gay humans the right to express their love in marriage – will deliver an invocation at his Inaugural.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Extremity Matters

Commentators I like – and to whom I link – often say that ideology matters. That’s true, but only to a point, as I argued here and here. Political frames – like any others – are not only about kind, but also degree. Size also matters. Extremity matters.

Another data point to this effect is the op-ed in today’s NY Times by Thomas Schweich. Like Comey, Goldsmith, Whitman, O’Neill and Powell, he was, it seems, nobody’s idea of a leftie. Nonetheless, he ran afoul of – or, more accurately, struggled with – the children’s crusaders of the Right who were the acolytes of the “hard” wing of the Bush Administration – the Cheneys, Yoos, Addingtons, et al. Schweich’s problem wasn’t his party affiliation, but his possession of expertise. Like millions of good, card-carrying Commies in Cambodia or China in a previous era, he was suspect precisely because he actually knew something.

America’s government in the last eight years became infested by a homegrown equivalent of the Khmer Rouge or the Red Guards. In a goofy stew that was equal parts ignorance and ideology, they ginned up their own sort of Cultural Revolution, sending down – or, at this comparatively early stage, simply freezing out – even the former revolutionaries (Reagan variety). You helped overthrow Chiang in 1949? That was then, this is now. Now, you wear glasses.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's Already Too Late

It has now been a week since the Washington Post put up the picture of Jon Favreau and his bud acting out a hilarious joke about date-raping Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama has said nothing.

There can be no doubt that he is aware of this, the controversy over Gov. Blagojevich notwithstanding. It's been on CNN. Dee Dee Meyers has condemned it. It's been all over the blogosphere.

So he knows. And once he knows, there can be only one appropriate reaction -- moral outrage. And there can be only one action that demonstrates leadership -- firing Favreau, accompanied by a public statement that his behavior does not represent the beliefs and values of the American government or American society or the Obama Administration.

Failure to have that reaction and to take that action shows one of two things, neither of which is savory. Either Barack Obama simply doesn't see this as an important problem. or he and his people have been spending this time behind closed doors, figuring out how to spin it. Waiting to see whether there's enough of a stink about this that they have to respond in some way, or whether it'll just fade away.

Even if you don't believe it's important to send a signal to the women in his government -- and the women and girls of the world -- that misogyny is wrong (that is, even if you are a sexist pig), you still must, as a leader, defend your people. He apparently doesn't care enough to show the world that one of the key players on his team can't be treated with contempt.

Well, time has run out. The clock has finished ticking. All pens have been put down, and the blue books have been handed in. Our incoming president has flunked his first major test on values. That's a bummer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Tangential Thought

Maybe the Blaggy Bottom scandal will have an ancillary (and salutary) impact here in my home state. Maybe it will put a little bit of pressure on N.Y.S. Governor David Patterson to appoint the most qualified person to replace Hillary Clinton -- say, Carolyn Maloney. To be sure, there's no pay-to-play going on here, as far as anyone knows. But the personal agency of one aged Senate Lion does smack of self-interest over public interest. In the light of the Illinois Shuffle, maybe a bit of Caesar's wifery will obtain.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Boys Will Be Boys

Once again, we get an unguarded peek into the mindset of Camp Obama. (And check out the comments, too.) This, like “monster,” will present a seemingly minor but nonetheless revealing test of how much Barack himself has put Animal House behind him.

I mean, Favreau should be fired anyway, as part of the shift from campaigning to governing, and the replacement of children’s crusade zombies with knowledgeable grown-ups – a shift that is evident in most of his appointments thus far, and most notably, of course, in Hillary’s. We need speeches from the leader of the free world that aren’t awash in abstract nouns, sentences without objects and intransitive verbs. We need sentences you could actually diagram – describing policies you could actually enact. But putting that aside, if this photo doesn’t prove to be at least a career-diverting move for Mr. Favreau, it doesn’t speak well for the culture of the incoming Administration.

And, to the "get-a-life"/"get-over-it" fratties in the comment threads – and in the many drinking rooms of the Kos frathouse – please spare us the lectures about how boys will be boys. We don’t need boys or girls, thank you. We need adults – preferably ones not infected by social diseases.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang - Updated

Kiss Kiss: I’m very happy that our president-elect is bringing people with measurable IQs, degrees from accredited schools and actual expertise back into government, in decision-making positions, no less. I do hope his economy team has the vision and the courage to be bold – and concern about that is not mere trolling. Some of this, please.

On the foreign policy front, where we will be represented by the natural leader of our country, we’re in excellent shape. It speaks very highly of Barack Obama’s judgment and self-confidence that he has been willing to embrace a co-presidency (which seems to be Hillary’s fate) – especially with a partner as formidable and dedicated as she. It’s all the more impressive that he is doing so over the frothing objections of – perhaps with the intent of sending a message to? – some of his most prominent supporters.

Bang Bang: Note to Chris Matthews, Maureen Dowd, Frank Rich, Christopher Hitchens, Josh Marshall, John Avarosis, Markos, Arianna Huffington and the rest of the zombie crew (you know who you are): I recommend the film below for your holiday viewing pleasure. I myself give thanks, with you in mind, every time I get to the 2:00 mark in this clip:

And for one whose brains long ago exploded, here's another option for you, Keith Olbermann (1:40 et seq.):

John Heilemann has an excellent piece in the latest New York magazine on the political meanings of Obama tapping Hillary for SoS. It concludes:
"It demonstrates strength, whereas selecting her as his running mate would have displayed the opposite (the stories would all have been about how he did it because he had no choice). And it demonstrates a level of self-confidence remarkable even in someone who just won the presidency. One of the cardinal rules of the Beltway is that you never appoint a subordinate who, for all practical purposes, can’t be fired. Colin Powell was very nearly such an appointment, and George W. Bush came to regret it. Hillary Clinton would be another. Obama is wagering that Clinton will do his bidding and not pursue her own agenda because she will see that her future—in electoral politics, in how she’s treated in the history books—will be bound up with his success. He’s not just bringing her inside the tent; he is making her a tent-pole. This strategy is either shrewd or delusional. But timid it is not."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Send Not To Know for Whom the Nape Bristles - Updated

Just when I’m musing about taking down my shingle, a few more sick fuckfaces stumble into in the waiting room…

The Times reports today that “some in the Obama camp are bristling at what they see as strategic leaks by the Clintons aimed at boxing in the president-elect and forcing him to offer the post" – i.e., Hillary’s prospective nomination as Secretary of State. There seem to be two outrages prompting said bristling. First, Bill was asked about it, at an unrelated event – asked about the extensively pimped “investigation” into his dealings (which was, in fact, leaked and then bloviated upon with outrage in the Times and across the shrillosphere) – and he said he'd do whatever they wanted. Second, Hillary sought to understand her proposed role and scope of authority.

So let’s get this straight. “The Obama camp” did talk quite a bit to reporters, anonymously, about how supposedly serious the issues surrounding Bill's activities were – deliberately spreading the meme that there's something unsavory in the Clinton Global Initiative (which makes sense when you understand what a racist he is). And yet they’re the ones “bristling” when he reacts to this by saying in public – the nerve! – that he’ll agree to all their conditions… or any further conditions they come up with.

And on point two, we pick up no seismic evidence of bristling when exactly the same things are done by Tom Daschle (his own possible conflicts, his wife's continuing role as a lobbyist, and his insistence on real power to shape healthcare policy). Not to mention, of course, that these people have been working actively behind the scenes and anonymously to their pals in the Clinton-hating press to exclude Hillary herself – the obvious leader in America on universal healthcare – from a leadership position on healthcare.

Let’s stipulate that Bill Clinton is what to manage. Without doubt, he will not go gently into that good night. But grown-ups would see him mostly as a huge asset, not mostly a problem. These people are supposed to be up to managing the world – and their sensibilities are so delicate and their equilibrium is so unsteady that they can't manage this?

Who are the leakers here? Who are the pimps? Who are the enablers? Who’s the prima donna? Who are the grown-ups? Who are the practitioners of the old politics and the “new”? And whose follicles of moral outrage deserve to stand on end?

Update: I am prompted to a further thought by Anglachel's new rumination on what Hillary's appointment as SOS would mean -- to the world, to America, to the State Department and to the new Administration. If Obama actually extends the offer to her, that would be a highly significant act, for all the reasons Anglachel states. It would obviously demonstrate his own lack of infection by CDS, and his own self-confidence. And the fact that it would also, deliciously, explode the brains of the Army of the Undead (scroll down to "Bimbo Eruption")... well, that would be a tasty boat of gravy for those turkeys. (Not the least of it would be denying the alliance of the Clinton-hating press and "the Obama camp" their dearest wish... at the hands of their own love object. Nice.)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Biting the Bullet Points

Items in the passing parade:

  • Into the sunset? You’ve probably noted a reduction in frequency of posts here. I’m musing on whether and/or with what purpose to continue this blog – ruminations influenced by factors ranging from personal/family/work considerations… to tonight’s news of the apparent absorption into the OBorg of my political hero and the original raison d’etre for my alter ego’s animadversions.

  • Go read David Brooks in tomorrow’s Times. Yes, David Brooks. Whether Obama rises to the occasion or not, whether or not we get a New New Deal, one thing is certain: People are going to curse the name of George W. Bush. (If Depression I gave us Hoovervilles, will Depression II give us Bushburbs?)

  • The Girls of MSNBC. What goes through the heads and hearts of the kept women of this hothouse of misogyny – up to and including Rachel Maddow (who seems, per her New York Magazine piece of puffery, to be just hunky-dory with KO, Tweety, Chuck and the Ladz)?

  • Hopeless for a Cure. I know we’ll eventually conquer cancer, AIDS, schizophrenia and hangnails, but if the Martians do invade, they’d better be prepared for something a lot more persistent.

  • Derridean Derivatives: Another one to go read – John Lanchester’s consideration of the financial meltdown as a crisis of postmodernism, in the Nov. 10 New Yorker. The nut graf: “If the invention of derivatives was the financial world’s modernist dawn, the current crisis is unsettlingly like the birth of postmodernism. For anyone who studied literature in college in the past few decades, there is a weird familiarity about the current crisis: value, in the realm of finance capital, evokes the elusive nature of meaning in deconstructionism.”

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Four by Four

Today’s four wonderful things:

  1. America has elected an African-American as president.
  2. America’s standing in the world is about to rise dramatically.
  3. The Republican Party is d-doornail-dead as a national party. It’ll be a generation before they can regroup and take over again.
  4. Our new president is a lodestone for people’s hopes – so, a big chunk of the human race will have his back, will be trying to help him succeed.

Today’s four lousy things:

  1. The misogyny of the primaries has been rewarded, and in a very personalized way for one remarkable person. Hillary Clinton will never be President of the United States.
  2. The Democratic Party is being led by deeply unserious and/or unprincipled people.
  3. We have a large question-mark at the center of our government, in a chair that has traditionally required vision and decisiveness, and at a time that would seem to require an extra measure of both.
  4. Homophobia still ranges the land – even on the Left Coast.

And tomorrow? Well, it’s another day... and the forecast is at least a mix of sunshine and clouds, after a long, dark season.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Night of the Living Dowd - Update

Tell me, Chief, are they slow-moving?
Yeah, they're dead. They're all messed up.

Update: Thing about zombies -- they just won't quit. And this one is a truly persistent and icky specimen... so in thrall to her CDS obsessions... so deeply self-involved... so staunchly nasty... and so profoundly oblivious of her self-revelation.

As always with the Dowdster, one hardly knows where to begin the deconstruction. The whole piece is... a piece of work, as evra. I'll just call out one passage

"But I had been astonished by the overt willingness of some people who didn’t mind being quoted by name in The New York Times saying vile stuff, that a President Obama would turn the Rose Garden into a watermelon patch, that he’d have barbeques on the front lawn, that he’d make the White House the Black House.

"Actually, the elegant and disciplined Obama, who is not descended from the central African-American experience but who has nonetheless embraced it and been embraced by it, has the chance to make the White House pristine again."
She's talking about being willing to go on the record "in The New York Times saying vile stuff"!? Uh, Mo, maybe you shoulda had an editor question you about that one...

Rebutting the idea (whose was that, exactly?) that this will become "the Black House," she types -- to express that he will do nothing of the kind -- that he will make it "pristine again." Not black (or Black), but pristine...?

Please, please, please. Surely, even in these tough times, your medical plan still has provisions for psychiatric coverage, so you don't have to feel like you're throwing her out in the street. You fired Judith Miller. You fired Jayson Blair. You know how to do this.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Luck Child Theory of History

Can a crisis mold raw clay into something great? Would Lincoln have come to be regarded as our greatest president without the Civil War? Would Franklin Delano Roosevelt have been great without an eponymous Depression – or, even with it, without the Second World War?

Clearly, LBJ, who self-consciously sought greatness, believed that victory over some large challenge was part of the entrance exam. He wanted to be the second coming of his political idol, FDR, and did a fair job of tracing that picture on the domestic front – including his embrace of racial justice in a way that ran counter to everything for which his life had previously stood. But to be FDR II, he had to win a just war -- and not over an abstraction (poverty), but over a physical enemy (the march of communism). And the war that history provided for him was neither just nor winnable. As a result, nobody will ever place Lyndon Johnson in the top rung of the American Pantheon.

And the same, in all likelihood, applies to our next president, Barack Obama, despite his central-casting role as the emblem of America’s journey toward healing of its original sin. I suppose it’s hypothetically possible that radical jihadism will present an opportunity for an actually winnable war on his watch – but I doubt it.

On the economy, though, perhaps an LBJ-level opportunity is in the cards – but probably taking a very different form. Not that Obama has evidenced much thoughtfulness or originality on the subject of economics – nor the kind of strength and toughness needed to drive something controversial to completion, as Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act. Obama simply isn’t a leader.

But perhaps, on both policy grounds and leadership grounds, not much will actually be needed? Perhaps this looming Depression II is so significant, and our self-consciousness of it is so vivid (in large part because we went through the first one), that there’s a politically meaningful consensus that something serious has to be done. And perhaps -- and this is the big "perhaps" -- a concomitant consensus will emerge about what that something must be.

He’s definitely got one thing going for him: The world will be pulling for him. His tabula rasa-dom, his ability to serve as a universal-recipient-cum-focus-object for people’s fantasies, will stand him in good stead during a universally perceived emergency – in a way it wouldn’t have in palmier times. Even a lot of us who resent this person benefiting from the misogyny and fraud he rode to the nomination want the next President of the United States to succeed. The crapper we’ve fallen into is too dire to wish for anything else. The soul-repair of the Democratic Party will just have to wait on this. The tsunami has deferred that dream, too.

So I’m now hoping Obama serves as the stone soup for the collective, wisdom-of-crowds birthing of a new era. I don’t think he has the capacity to imagine it or deliver it himself. I don’t believe he has greatness in him, just waiting to be catalyzed by this crisis. In fact, I think he’s got certain aspects of narcissistic personality disorder, and that that cripples him as a decision-maker and even, long-term, as an inspirer.

But he might be a Luck Child, dropped by fate into our midst at the moment we need one... the moment when we most require a catalyst (or pretext) for a very different kind of greatness to emerge in us and among us.

And as the saying goes, it’s often better to be lucky than good.


Herewith a thought prompted by a few of the op-eds in today’s Times. The Cliffs Notes versions:

David Brooks – McCain is losing because of his campaign. (He didn’t move to the center.)

Paul Krugman – McCain is losing because of his campaign. (He has dwelt in trivia, when the public wants seriousness.)

Maureen Dowd –McCain is losing because of his campaign (in this case, because that campaign turned Sarah Palin into a high-spending hypocrite).

Timothy Egan – McCain is losing because of his campaign (in particular, their attacks on the “brainy cities”).

Go to other papers, magazines, websites and punditpaloozas on the tubes, and you hear varieties of the same.

Well, I beg to differ. McCain is losing because of the tsunami. This crisis hasn’t driven the American public to a more focused and conscious scrutiny of these two men and their positions. Rather, it has rendered those moot. It’s so big and so scary that people are putting the traits of the individuals aside. They’re voting Democratic, period. They’re voting Democratic in the House. They’re voting Democratic in the Senate. They’re voting Democratic in state races. And they’re voting Democratic for president.

All of this energetic parsing of McCain-did-this-wrong and Obama-did-this-brilliantly is purely meta. It’s pundits – the color commentators of our political-sports broadcasting biz – justifying their own role, privileged position and putative cleverness. These two candidates haven’t changed in any visible ways the cases they’ve been making for themselves and against their opponent over the course of the campaign – and yet their fortunes have taken a dramatic turn. Before the financial meltdown erupted, McCain’s (now supposedly risible) campaign was succeeding, against all odds, and Obama looked like a deer in the headlights. After the meltdown, McCain’s (formerly seen as jujitsu-smart) campaign is seen as doomed and desperate, and Obama is described as sober, calm and presidential. What nonsense.

Finally, since I am such a big fan of Paul Krugman, I feel obliged to clarify where I think he’s mistaken in this column. As he argues, McCain is “spectacularly unable to talk about economics as if it matters.” And since it so palpably matters now, he has been disqualified as a candidate. But the same could be said about Barack Obama. Throughout the primaries, and more or less up to this very moment, he, too, has been – to be very generous to him – at best clumsy in attempting to explain what’s going on, to capture people’s feelings about it or to suggest a path forward. It’s not any putative “seriousness” of this person, or his ideas, or his inspiring message that are being rewarded here. That’s the stuff of the man-crushes of Andrew Sullivan, Chris Matthews, Jonathan Alter, Josh Marshall, Frank Rich and their ilk. It’s a chimera. To the degree Obama has moved people, it is because he spoke to things other than their economic standing or prospects, and because he tickled emotions that are at a far remove from “seriousness.”

Those emotions might, absent the tsunami, have nonetheless produced a narrow victory – perhaps as narrow as John Kennedy’s, the campaign to which Obama is most often and credibly compared. But given the landfall of the tsunami, what's being rewarded is quite simply the “(D)” after his name on the ballot. Period. The rest is self-aggrandizing movie reviews.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Howler Alert

To: Bob Somerby
From: The Village
Re: Your influence

We expect you are proud of yourself. The dispiriting influence of your incessant howling seems to be spreading. We note for the record a violation of Rule One by a putative member of our community, one Paul Krugman (a gentleman we understand to have been recognized by others recently for work of some kind that is unrelated to the community's interests). Mr. Krugman was indecorous enough to use his membership to reference past observations by Our Dean, and compare them invidiously to previous writings of his own. That isn't done. Past observations are past. Our responsibility is to the present -- to the maintenance of an even flow of consensus through turbulent waters. Indeed, Our Dean’s remarks in question were, by definition, thoughtful and nuanced at the time, and if subsequent events have rendered them questionable... that is the work of historians, scientists and other tedious, infrequently published professionals.

Happily, this infraction took place in a venue of small importance -- a so-called "blog." Therefore we need not pursue a more forceful course of action, such as shunning. However, this is a slippery slope. We must insist, once again, that you cease your howling. Consider this a sternly worded letter.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Obviously, Gen. Powell’s endorsement of Sen. Obama adds one more log to Sen. McCain’s political funeral pyre. And I agree that the post-partisan orthodoxy is being laid on thick.

But isn’t the most obvious motive here not policy but simple opportunism and reputation repair? I think it’s clear that Colin Powell – he of the false selling of the Iraq War, of good soldier trumping good judgment – is seeking to rewrite his own obit. He's trying to undo his Lord Jim-like failure at a moment when it really mattered. So call me cynical, but I suspect he is more concerned with what associating himself with Barack Obama can do for him than with what he can do for Barack Obama.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Bestest Award Ever - Updated

I wonder if there has ever been a Nobel Prize awarded with such an immediate and concrete impact as that for Paul Krugman today. In the midst of the current financial crisis, his influence on U.S. and global economic policy and thinking was already rising – from the flaws in the Paulson plan, to the wisdom of Gordon Brown's approach -- and that influence now seems likely to be redoubled. Usually, Nobel Prizes are retrospective and long-term in their perspective. I can’t remember one that amounted to an endorsement of a thinker in the midst of a rolling tsunami like this, with such a need for real-time decisions and so much at stake.

Bravo, and thank goodness.

Also, it’s impossible not to reflect that Krugman has not only been proven right on his long-held and frequently published (indeed, daily) analyses of economics, healthcare and public policy in general… but also that he was right from the start on the Democratic nomination decision. Maybe we can hope that President-Elect Obama will take out some tracing paper as he crafts his new Administration. Wouldn’t it be great to hear, “Whatever Paul and Hillary said… we’ll do that.”

Update: In case you were wondering... Yes, I did consider titling this post "The Nobelist Krugman of Them All," or "Please, Officer Krugman," or "Nobel Oblige"... but thought better of it.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Talkless Heads

Isn’t it remarkable, at this late date… after more than a year of candidacy, and four years in the public eye… after a primary that attracted more attention than any in our lifetime… after the eruption of issues of unprecedented urgency, scale and consequence, which are assaulting us every day – or hour… isn’t it remarkable that there continues to be no substantive case for Barack Obama’s prospective presidency?

Isn’t it remarkable that Obama’s supporters, after all this time, cannot come up with a serious argument for why he should be president, other than (a) the other guy’s awful and scary and (b) we have to throw the Republicans out (or, at best, he’ll hire better advisors)?

Isn’t it remarkable that they cannot make an even slightly persuasive case for what we can expect him actually to do as president?

Of course, when one says things like this, there is a consistent response from these people: “Do de do de do… I can’t hear you… I’ve got my fingers in my ears… La di dah di dah.” I expect their reaction to this post will be the same. “Good lord, there he goes again, beating this dead horse. This guy is a broken record, one of these dead-end obsessives.”

This reaction takes a few different forms, but they all amount to a refusal to discuss. Not that they won’t talk about those issues – many will… from the economy to nuclear proliferation to whatever. As long as we’re not talking politics. As soon as the conversation moves to the election and the Precious… inquiry and open dialogue stops. The only allowable form of discourse – and the only permissible emotional affect – is outrage at the Republicans, especially Sarah Palin.

One variant: “Oh, you just hate him.” Meaning: “You’re not rational on this subject, so we can’t talk about it.” For some, this has the subtext of: “You’re a racist!” For others, simple perplexity at how anyone can find him un-wonderful.

Another variant: “Oh, you’re just bitter that Hillary lost. You were in love with her. Get over it – after all, she did.” Meaning: “You’re not ready to come out of your room… so we can’t talk.”

And another: “Sarah Palin??? John McCain??? What is there to talk about?”

What you absolutely never hear, though is: “I am enthusiastic about the prospect of an Obama presidency because he will do X, Y or Z on the economy…” or “His healthcare proposal is based on the smartest analysis I’ve heard about how to tackle this problem – let me tell you why…” or “His ideas for how to approach a complex, globalizing economy and geopolitical arena are unique, in A, B and C ways…” or anything even remotely like that.

Press them for a single respect in which he has shown actual substantive and innovative thinking and leadership… or for a coherent policy frame that makes sense of his FISA vote, his D.C. gun control statement, his position on the death penalty, his Harry and Louse ads and on and on… and they resort to one of the responses above. It’s all horserace, all GOP-directed schadenfreude, all Palin snark, all ohmygod apocalysm about a possible McCain win, all the time.

Don’t get me wrong. Obama is going to win. The American people are going to throw these Repubums out. We are going to recreate the political conditions of 1932… whether or not we have an FDR to fill that role.

But wouldn’t you think that, given the foregone conclusion we face... and given the pressing urgency of making the right decisions about economic policy -- with material consequences for all our lives, including those of these interlocutors – wouldn’t you think that other conversations would be happening? Is it just too scary these days to think? Are we down to nothing but repeating “hope” and “change”?

Just askin’.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Sauce for the Goose

Tom Friedman is entirely right about Sarah Palin. She is not of presidential timber. She is one scary prospect. As he says, "we may be at that moment just before the tsunami hits — when the birds take flight and the insects stop chirping because their acute senses can feel what is coming before humans can. At this moment, only good governance can save us." As he says, "And please don’t tell me she will hire smart advisers. What happens when her two smartest advisers disagree?" As he says, "And please also don’t tell me she is an “energy expert.” She is an energy expert exactly the same way the king of Saudi Arabia is an energy expert — by accident of residence."

Good arguments. A Palin Administration is to be rejected, at all costs.

But... wait a sec. Who else in this play is "a total novice"? Who else will, we're reassured, "hire smart advisers"? Who else has no track record of "good governance"... or any governance? Who is a healthcare expert in the same way that, say, Jim Cooper is a healthcare expert -- by accident of party affiliation?

Well, it's academic, now -- right? No point in avoiding a Precious Administration at all costs... 'cause it's in the books. Don't worry, be hopey. Or, in the immortal words of Emily Litella, "Never mind."

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Importance of This Election

As far as I can remember, there has never been a presidential contest in my lifetime when it was obvious going in that the winner would only serve one term. Until this one. It simply isn’t in the cards for either of these guys to succeed, given the scope and trauma of the transition through which we’re now going.

Grossly oversimplified, whatever factual basis there ever was for American hegemony and exceptionalism, it has now died. This is taking numerous forms. I’ll touch on two.

First, the political sphere – with its doppelganger, the arena of military strategy and action (“politics by other means,” and all that). The so-called Bush Doctrine (a phrase that should be the first entry in the next O.E.D. under “oxymoron”) turns out to have been neither a bold nor horrific plan to secure the Pax Americana, but rather the pathetic last gasp of all hegemonic fantasies – for this or any other nation state. It’s the swan song for the dream of military dominance in a complexly, globally distributed and integrating world.

We (the humans, that is… all of us) will be, over the next couple of centuries, struggling our way towards new, post-national forms and institutions of legitimacy, ownership, decision-making, security, self-actualization, power, environmental stewardship and so on. These forms and institutions will not be grounded in the withering nation-state – nor will they inhere in some Panglossean or dystopian parody of the nation-state (a la 1984 or Brave New World). Their ground, rather, will be the emerging, global, Internet-based and ecologically sustainable commons.

After all, nation states haven’t always existed, and aren’t preordained to exist forever. There are plenty of other imaginable and pragmatic ways for human society to be organized and operated, and those ways will emerge over time, as have the previous stages in our evolution as a species. That’s just science, and history. (Unless, of course, we’re just too unhappy to live, and decide not to… which is also a reasonable option. Nature abhors vacuums, but it doesn’t abhor extinctions.)

In other words, even if our government and the DOD were not bankrupt, even if the Iraq war had gone well, even if we’d hung Osama bin Laden high, even if Kim Jong Il had croaked (along with Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinhejad and Vladimir Putin) – and even if (add every single currently known military challenge the world faces to the list)… there is no way any more for this or any other country to dominate the planet by force of arms or political might. The system has become too complex. It has undergone a phase shift. It’s now a global network, and it therefore operates by the laws of networks.

In any network, information flows throughout the system, and the system treats any attempt to block those flows as an error, and routes around them. (A consciousness of the flows within holistic networks is precisely an ecological consciousness – and it helps explain why nation-states have been so ineffective at dealing with climate change and other truly planetary challenges, such as drinking water or pandemics.)

So, for instance, if something prevents my phone call from Brooklyn to Chicago from traveling the shortest path – say, an outage in Ohio – the grid simply sends it up to Canada or down to Brazil or over the Atlantic, through Europe and Russia and across the Pacific – or by some other route. Physical distance is irrelevant. The costs are effectively the same, and they are de minimus.

If there were a nuclear holocaust or a global pandemic, and all human society were wiped out… the network would still exist. It is now a part of the planet. (If we want to get a bit more big-picture about this, we could see it as an emergent form of the electro-chemical information-processing capacity of nature itself. Or not, if that’s not your bag.)

That is the basic reality in and on which we live (or don’t live) – now, and going forward. Yes, there can be traffic jams. Yes, particular places can be horror holes for periods of time. Yes, competition continues on the commons, along with sadism, misogyny, greed, the struggles of natural selection and all sorts of mishagas. But there’s no way to put the genie of a networked planet back into the bottle. And therefore there’s no way for any military power to impose its will on the world. Of course, if there were a monopoly on nuclear bombs, that might do the trick… but that horse got out of the barn decades ago. No, planetary destruction is possible, but not planetary control.

Second, the sphere of economics. As Tom Friedman points out in today’s Times, the present financial crisis is going to spark “globalization and financial integration on steroids.” We’re going to depend on the kindness and the wallets of strangers more and more, not less and less. Indeed, if the past three weeks have taught us anything, it’s that the global economy, too, has become a complex, emergent, planet-scale system (one that, yes, can be temporarily gamed).

True, the radicals of the Right have fucked up our adaptation to the reality of globalization to a faretheewell. The articles in the Times that Anglachel cites, on some of the proximate causes of the meltdown, are helpful in making that clear. And I expect we’ll now get a spate of books – analogous to the post-Iraq publishing bonanza – anatomizing this systemic failure, and assigning blame. (I mean, we need some entertainment as we huddle together for warmth, right?) But what passes for “the Left” hasn’t been any better at understanding what’s going on or prescribing what to do about it.

The truth is that the whole right-left frame is now archaic. The emotional meanings of those terms, their attendant memes – for us Democrats, roughly speaking, it’s “right” = “greedy and backward-looking” and “left” = compassionate and progressive” – probably have legs, and need now to migrate to some better ideological hosts. But the Marxist vs. capitalist frame has faded, as Industrial Capitalism has been succeeded by Post-Industrial Capitalism, and hierarchies are in the process of being succeeded by networks (or, at least, heterarchies).

But that’s another discussion. My point here is that in economics, as in the spheres of politics and the military, America’s post-WWII hegemony is over. And the citizens of an empire don’t dig it when that happens. They keep demanding that their leaders pull rabbits out of the hat of history, and they fire those leaders in rapid succession when it turns out that “magic” is just another word for “bullshit.” (Bullshit ain’t worth nothing… but it sure ain’t free.)

This is going to hit the next president – Barack Obama – from day one... and at 3 a.m. And he is not remotely adequate to it. Maybe nobody is… but he’s not near the high end of the “He might just pull us through” scale. Neither, of course, is John McCain or Joe Biden – and don’t hurt yourself laughing about Sarah Palin. And no confederacy of smarties that any of these people could assemble is going to provide actual leadership or a great gut instinct. Even with Hillary, it would have been a long shot.

Which is why this is the least important election in our lifetime.

Friday, October 3, 2008

It's the Stupid Economy

In terms of the outcome on Nov. 4, only one thing matters now.

John McCain’s “maverick” schtick doesn’t matter. Neither does his rightness or wrongness on Iraq, or the Surge, or immigration, or campaign finance, or earmarks. Nor the all-too-apparent ebbing of his faculties.

Barack Obama’s “change” and “hope” schtick doesn’t matter. Neither does his post-partisan pathology, or his appeal to the "creative class," or his narcissism. (One thing that might matter after the election is his triangulating lack of principle on universal healthcare – unless he has the sense to go with Hillary’s plan… and turn to her to make sure it actually happens. I’m not holding my breath.)

Joe Biden’s blabbermouth gaffitude doesn’t matter. And neither does Sarah Palin’s lack of knowledge about… well, anything. It’s not just that both did a decent job in tonight’s VP debate – most notably, that Palin staunched the bleeding from her humiliating Katie Couric performances. It’s because neither the VP candidates nor the presidential candidates matter any more.

Whether America is ready for an African American to be president doesn’t matter. It’ll happen, and that will be that. (Not that racism will be cured, of course. Just that this particular benchmark will be in the books.)

Even whether America is ready for a woman to be president doesn’t matter – for the opposite reason. Instead of putting that one behind us, we’re pushing it back into the cellar. (Afterward, sexism will once again become fodder for concerned tut-tutting by sober pundits on Sunday mornings and PBS evenings. We’ll be told earnestly that we really must do something about the misogyny in our society. Charlie Rose will furrow his brow over it. Our Orator in Chief will no doubt have some inspiring words to utter on the subject, as will the First Lady. All of it will now become a matter of irrelevant Village consensus… because once again, politically speaking, it doesn’t matter.)

Remarkably, I don’t even think it matters electorally what happens with the economic “rescue” plan over the next month – whether it’s the right or wrong thing to do… whether it goes far enough to protect ordinary citizens rather than fat cats… or whether it gets passed expeditiously. Those things matter a lot for the lives of Americans (and denizens of other countries as well)… but they don’t matter for the outcome on Nov. 4. People who are thinking the House Republicans will benefit from their opposition to it are mostly wrong.

The only thing that matters now is the letter “D” inside the parentheses following Barack Obama’s name on the ballot, and that of every Democratic Senatorial and Congressional candidate. To get elected dogcatcher anywhere outside the South -- and in plenty of places even there -- you're gonna need that D.

That’s because the financial tsumani has engulfed everything else, all the differences between the candidates, all the policy positions, all the metaphors, everything.

Of course, what happens after Nov. 4 will certainly matter – how it all works out for our jobs, our health, our kids and our planet. For some of us, Hillary Clinton will continue to matter… and the dream of evolving past our misogyny as a species… and the hope that at some point during the Democratic Party’s coming generation in power, we’ll get our real FDR.

With regard to all of that… it’s Nov. 4 that, sadly, doesn’t matter.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The A Plan

What do we know?

We know that Barack Obama will be the next President of the United States. (Until the past week there was a slim chance that McCain might have the savvy and guts to seize this opportunity and playact something like leadership. But instead he playacted something like Claribelle – with Palin taking on the role of Mortimer Snerd.)

We know that President Obama will have a Democratic House and Senate of 1936 proportions. We know that he will inherit a mess of 1932 proportions. We know that he is no FDR… no Harry Truman… no Bill Clinton. Perhaps he’s a Jimmy Carter. Perhaps.

We know that his administration will be overwhelmed with digging out of the fathoms-deep swamp into which the Bushies have driven the family car. We know that they will be attempting to do so without many of the tools of a healthy government and society. Those tools – along with the trust and knowledge to wield them effectively – have been melted into hood ornaments by the right-wing, anti-government radicals.

It will be cold comfort to send a couple of these wingnuts – probably the pathetic, sub-ideological lapdog Alberto Gonzalez and a couple of others – to jail. It would even be useless to convict W and Cheney themselves – and, of course, that won’t happen. The Democrats are conservatives, and conservatives don’t do that stuff. Conservatives circle the wagons, calm the waters, reassure us that order has been reasserted, push the dirty laundry back under the bed and keep the family’s mess out of public view.

(We also know that the Republican Party will remain a drooling basket case for a decade or more… for whatever that’s worth.)

We know that this mess won’t be cleaned up by the time the next electoral cycle comes around. We know the ebbing of America’s competitive standing will have accelerated – helped along by politically irresistible forces of protectionism. Sensible people will point out that we were not destined to remain a hegemon anyway – but that won’t matter much politically. So a Carteresque malaise will settle over the land – only to be disrupted, perhaps, by terror, as the resurgent (and possibly nuclear-armed) anti-modernist forces of jihadism obey nature’s imperative of abhorring a vacuum. (Certainly the Chinese, Indians and other surging innovation powerhouses will not be shrinking economic violets, either.)

We know that neither Obama nor his advisors nor the “leadership” of the soon-to-be-dominant Democratic Party has a clue as to what to do about any of this – lacking any visible point of view on where the world is going or how to react to that.

That’s what we know. What do we hope?

We hope that they will turn to the only apparent grown-ups around… the Clintons and their brain trust. We hope that Hillary and Bill will be solicited to take ex-officio leadership roles in shaping the economic recovery plan, including its necessary components of healthcare reform, energy technology and global strategy.

We hope that Hillary and Bill will continue to act like adults and dedicated public servants, despite the past behavior and continuing shallowness of the jackals who scorned them and now sue them for help. We hope that they will put the trashing of the real Democratic Party behind them. We thus hope that the misogyny of the primaries – which the DNC, the Obama campaign and the pro-Obama media and shrillosphere permitted, abetted, engaged in -- will be rewarded.

That’s what we know, and what we hope. That’s Plan A.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Our Lame Ducks in a Row - Updated

This whole thing is turning into a French farce – which is about to be repeated as tragedy. It’s like watching Rome burn, except these guys don’t have Nero’s insouciance. They’re more like the Three Stooges.

Bush has been the lamest duck in U.S. presidential history, pretty much since he hugged the third rail of Social Security “reform.” In fact, he’s been at it so long now that he’s kind of settled into the role, figured out its protocols, accepted his own failure with the kind of quiet ill-grace that we’ve all come to love. The “decider”? He’s barely the presider. The United States is being run by the grounds crew – Gates, Paulson, Crocker, et al. (“Run” being a relative term here.)

So, I guess, with that role model before them, we can understand the behavior, cluelessness, feckless wanderings and policy meanderings of our two suitors for succession. Their attentiveness to W’s example is acutely visible in the present crisis: McCain, with his playground impishness, throwing monkey wrenches hither and yon – into debates as well as bailouts; Obama, with his patented deer-in-the-headlights freeze-tag, working manfully to keep it together until the next podium is free. (And then there’s Joe Biden’s channeling of Mrs. Malaprop – or is it Gerald Ford?... which doesn’t hold a candle to Sarah Palin’s bid to out-dumb-jerk Steve Carrell’s Michael from The Office.)

It’s a signal innovation for candidates to become lame ducks before the election. But, then, these are transformative times.

Update: There are, fwiw, some adults in the wings. O tempores, o morons.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Apples and Oranges

I don’t personally know any Obots. I see evidence of their cult-like fervor (and often vitriol) on the Intertubes, of course. But, frankly, even that seems muted these days, compared to its full-throated Beatlemania haka circa February-March of this year.

The people I know who are supporting Obama are of a different breed. They acknowledge that he is flawed, as a candidate and as a prospective president. Many say they preferred Hillary – and for some, I know that’s true, because we were talking throughout the primaries.

So, perhaps my sample of conversational partners isn’t representative – but it’s mine, and I’m gonna stick with it. And what it tells me is that the argument in favor of Obama has basically come down to this: “He’s better than McCain… and Palin is a horror… and we cannot tolerate a McCain victory. If that happens, God save us all.”

On the other hand, my wife and I, as well as some of our PUMAesque friends, were so outraged by the media, the DNC and the Obama campaign during the primaries – by the toxic soup of hatred, weak leadership and disenfranchisement – that we resolved not to vote for Obama.

Why? Not because we’re dead-enders who would only be happy with a Hillary victory (though there cannot be much doubt among objective observers that we’d all be in a whole lot better place today if she were on the verge of becoming president). It’s because the Democratic Party, our party, has to be shown some tough love. It cannot be okay for misogyny to triumph within it. It cannot be okay for the party’s putative leaders to behave like the GOP in Florida in 2000. It cannot be okay for this institution to continue its irresponsible love affair with fecklessness. The challenges we face demand serious, grown-up solutions. And, by the way, a failed Obama Administration could be worse for the party than a loss and course correction next year.

These are incompatible criteria, apples and oranges. Each side finds ways to minimize the potential damage of its preferred choice. “Divided government won’t be that bad,” in our case. “He’ll surround himself with smart advisors,” in theirs.

My point is, there is no way to resolve this, and no very satisfying prospect for either side, no matter what outcome ensues in November.

We’ve just been through eight years of radical assault… and we’re facing the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression… there’s no serious solution in sight for jihadist terror… and, oh, yeah, the planet’s probably going to pass the point of no return for humans any minute now. So, we can possibly improve the Democratic Party, or throw the dice on Better-Than-the-Other-Guy.

I know apples are supposedly in season -- and oranges always are -- but not this year.

Monday, September 22, 2008

So Crazy It Just Might Work - Update

Numerous people have chastised me for my precipitous certainty that the election was decided last week in Obama's favor. Well, who's snickering now?

They are.

Digby's argument for how this could be manna from heaven for McCain is pretty cogent.

Update: Okay, if you don't dig Digby, maybe you'll like Anglachel's angle -- a more detailed and nuanced scenario, but underlining the fact that, pace my beliefs of last week, this thing ain't over yet. (And, btw, it should be said that Anglachel has been invaluable on the meltdown -- both its economics and its politics.)

Friday, September 19, 2008

Of Two Minds

Bummer or beamer? On the one hand, I’m resigned to the reality of President Obama. I believe the election was decided this Monday. God got sick and tired of the Obama campaign’s amateurishness, its lack of principle or ideas – and his persistent refusal actually to be a Democrat – and She just decided to render all of that moot. This week’s crashus ex machina means that any considerations of the individual candidates’ comparative strengths (ha) and weaknesses are more or less irrelevant.

It’s this simple: When the October-in-September Surprise is large-scale and economic, the Democrat wins. (Helped, of course, if the Republican is especially clueless economically. This year, it's the economy, and the stupid.) And all things being approximately equal, when the Surprise is about national security, the Republican wins.

The polls are already on the move. What looked like a probable McCain win a week ago now bids fair to be a rout in the other direction.

So, I’m sitting shiva for the dream of President Hillary Clinton. This is such a painfully missed opportunity, it actually hurts. I continue to believe that Obama will be a failure – but he’ll be renominated in 2012, nonetheless. (After all, Carter was.) And the GOP is such a basket case that he may even be re-elected. (After all, W was.)

On the other hand, on a symbolic and historical level, it is impossible not to be moved by the prospect of an African American President of the United States. The soaring feeling that this is going to give to literally hundreds of millions of people is non-trivial.There is simply nothing about that that isn't wonderful -- even though the individual who is getting to write that chapter in the history books is woefully inadequate to it.

Where's Keats when you need him? We could all use some of that "negative capability."

Monday, September 15, 2008

October Surprise - Updated

... in September.

I am beyond my ken in the expert economics of this, but its political import is clear enough, even to an ignoramus like me. If this meltdown of the financial system happens -- starting in about half an hour from now (9:30 a.m. EDT, Sept. 15, 2008) -- the U.S. presidential election will (a) seem a lot less all-consuming than it did last night (including everything related to Sarah Palin), and (b) go to the Democrats in even more overwhelming numbers than it already promised to. Barack Obama will become our next president, not because he has the first idea what to do about the economy, but by default.

I guess you go into economic-crisis war not with the Democrat you want, but with the empty suit you've got.

Oh, and one more rogue thought: Anybody think this might be the pretext to replace Biden with Hillary?

Update: On second thought, nah. These guys won't be thrown off their game -- or lose the audacity of narcissism -- by a little financial collapse. They'll just conclude that now they've really got it locked up, and start planning the Inaugural Ball in the Grand Canyon and the Mt. Rushmore unveiling.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

The Pattern of All Bullshit

When I was in college, a joke went around about test-taking, which I've always thought sums up the Platonic Form of bullshitting.

Joe, a grad student is preparing for his orals in zoology, where he will be defending his thesis on invertebrates -- specifically, worms. His dissertation adviser is the world's leading expert on worms. The PhD is a lock.

Then, a couple of days before the exam, that professor has a heart attack, and is taken to the hospital. And the university, on such short notice, can't replace him with another expert on worms. So they tap another of their famous tenured greybeards -- who happens to be the world's leading expert on elephants.

"Oh, shit," Joe thinks. "I don't know anything about elephants!"

Well, sure enough, the day arrives, the exam begins and the eminent professor asks, "Tell me everything you know about an elephant."

Joe assumes his most confident demeanor and begins: "Well, an elephant is a very large animal... [approving nods] with two tusks... [more nods] and a trunk [smiles]... and a tail that's very much like a worm. Now a worm..."

I thought of this while watching Sarah Palin being interviewed by Charlie Gibson. It wasn't pretty. It's hard to disagree with this.

How in god's name did we wind up here? (A purely rhetorical question, of course.)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

On Lips, Pigs and Stickiness

Losing campaigns always complain about their words being distorted and taken out of context. Post-2004, the term of art for that is “swiftboating.” And it seems that its preferred form this time around – in both the primaries and the general election – is what Obama today correctly labeled as “phony outrage.” Namely, you cite some statement by the other side and demand that the candidate publicly repudiate it. The Obamanauts did this repeatedly during the primaries – and, of course, O-man himself was forced to do the same dance on Wright and Phleger.

The question isn’t who has been indulging in this game of playground faux machismo – “You gonna take that from him?” All the candidates have done so. The question is which attacks stick, and why.

Read My Lips: For one of these accusations to have real, er, bite, it usually has to have emerged from the candidate’s own lips. Obama’s campaign was adept at turning utterances like “fairy tale” and Hillary’s praise of LBJ into dogwhistles on race – and, of course, they turned up the volume to 11 in pimping the blood libel that she had wished for Obama’s death via her RFK reference – sending the (finally, blessedly now demoted) Keith Olbermann’s deranged rant to anybody with an email account.

On the other side of that coin, they were able to derive real political benefit from the misogyny directed against Hillary by making sure their candidate’s own statements were suggestive but never over the top: “periodically”… “claws come out”… “likeable enough” and so on. (The most obvious exception was Obama's "bitter" slip-up.) They could stoke the fires of Hillary-hatred – never uttering one word of condemnation, never orchestrating one Sistah Souljah event for the record – with what seemed, at the time, like relatively low cost.

Pigs: But was the cost really low? It sure doesn’t look that way now. A nearly 20-point swing in white women from Obama to McCain, post-conventions? These arrogant, cult-of-personality amateurs can dismiss the PUMAs with all the derision they like… but how do they explain the fact that the simple selection of Palin – this one stroke of political jujitsu – could turn the whole election on its ear, knock down their narrative like a house of cards, transform what should be the overwhelming underdog into the apparent leader?

The male chauvinist pigs of the Left were allowed to run amok, and the damage to the Democratic Party brand has been enormous. Sarah Palin isn’t a pig – but these guys are. The damage probably isn’t permanent, but it’s really bad, near-term. No video exists of Obama standing up for women, but there’s loads of it demonstrating the vitriol directed against Hillary over months of the primaries. It’s into that context that Obama’s remark about putting lipstick on a pig plays – not just the context of Palin’s acceptance speech, but months and months of media imagery in which Obama was benefiting from misogyny, smirking all the way to the bank (and brushing any concerns off his shoulders and shoes like so much birdshit).

Sticks Like Glue: So… of course Obama’s remarks have been heard and read as referring to Palin. That’s the way most ordinary people heard them – including plenty in the shrillosphere. The Obamateurs never understood how to construct a meta-narrative… how to define the game, their candidate or their opponents… how to shift the debate to a frame that favored them. They never learned how to play chess. Instead, they sat back, smug in their own cleverness at gaming the caucuses and embracing the Net, and thought that was all that was necessary. Instead of building his brand, they ran out the clock – and then had the moronic gall to reject Hillary as the obvious veep, the one who would guarantee victory.

For all these months, they have never linked Obama’s brand to the economy, or healthcare, or the environment. Indeed, they’ve done everything they could to avoid linking him to anything specific. All that was the “old politics.” Well, now these poseurs are reaping the whirlwind. Not to mention, they have been irretrievably forced into playing defense. Two days, out of the precious few remaining until Election Day, spent talking about lipstick and pigs are two days that can never be used to provide a raison d’etre for this campaign.

It’s a joke for the lefty blogs and the MSM to keep urging Obama to take the gloves off and show some backbone. Not only isn’t that who he is, but even if he were Jake Lamotta, it’s too late. There simply isn’t time now for him to change the arena and redefine the battle. That’s the work of months, even years. It’s hard enough to do when the candidate’s career, thinking and brand are solid and clear. Even then, it takes great political skill. You have to be able to box like Ali – to be both the lead actor and the dramatist of the bout. To suddenly ask a candidate lacking in substance, one who has pissed away months during which he should’ve been building a brand, to do this work in real time is, well, unreal. We've seen what happens when this guy starts getting hit. He doesn't take a punch very well. He just dances away, and loses the late rounds.

This campaign bids fair to go down as the most empty and inept in modern Democratic Party presidential politics – which is saying something. In fact, the only difference between this effort and the Dukakis campaign is that Dukakis had actual ideas and integrity.